The Great Rodeo Circuits

Follow this nationwide primer for your summer rodeo viewing pleasure.

American Cowboy Picture
THE CIRCUIT SYSTEM
Membership in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) includes approximately 7,500 competitors, but only 105 of these members qualify annually for the sport’s top event—the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. But since standings are measured by money earned, these men and women mostly compete in the country’s 75 highest-paying rodeos throughout the season. That leaves about 7,395 contestants competing at about 625 professional rodeos near you! These rodeos don’t play a huge roll in determining world championships, yet they offer fantastic rodeo competition for fans. On any given weekend, you can see a very interesting mix of champion-caliber cowboys, up-and-comers, and veterans.

The PRCA instituted a circuit system in 1975—in order help level the playing field, increase membership numbers, and give cowboys a chance to compete closer to home (and perhaps finish in the money)—that divides the country into 12 geographical regions. Each PRCA member designates his home circuit and must compete in at least 15 rodeos within that circuit to quality for the circuit finals. If he wins either the total year-end standings or the average title at the circuit finals, he is eligible to compete at the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo (RNCFR), held in March in Oklahoma City. (The champions of the RNCFR earn a national crown and a $20,000 voucher toward a new Dodge Ram truck.)

Some hobby competitors have left the PRCA in recent years to participate in smaller amateur associations outside the Circuit System. To lure these cowboys back, the PRCA endorses an event format within the Circuit System called the All-American ProRodeo Series. Any PRCA rodeo that adds $30,000 or less in total prize money automatically qualifies for this series (more than 400 events did last year). The 30 top-ranked cowboys, who qualify by competing in at least 30 series rodeos, advance to the finals, held in October in Waco, Texas. In other words, there’s a great rodeo happening somewhere in your neighborhood.

1. Columbia River

Highest Paying Pro Rodeo
PENDLETON ROUND-UP
Pendleton, Ore.
Dates: Sept. 12–15
Info: Tickets $15-25; (800) 457-6336, pendletonroundup.com
More than just the circuit’s largest potential payday (the Puyallup Pro Rodeo technically pays more, but it’s a post-season event), the iconic Pendleton Round-Up stands as one of the country’s premiere rodeos for its longevity and unique features like wild-cow milking, Indian Relay Races, and its turf-covered arena. Held for the first time in 1910, the Round-Up continues its tradition with three days of rodeo and weeklong festivities that include concerts, parades, and a Native American Arts and Crafts fair.

Best Mid-Sized
YNDEN PRCA RODEO
Lynden, Wash.
Dates: Aug. 24–25
Info: Tickets $10 adults, $5 for children; (360) 354-4111, nwwafair.com/rodeo
The Lynden Rodeo is the highlight of the Northwest Washington Fair. The rodeo features both roughstock and timed events, with an all-around cowboy crown going to the stiffest competitor. During last year’s fair, the town hosted the world’s largest hayride with more than 639 riders. The fair also includes cake-decorating contests, grandstand performances from bands such as Heart and Billy Currington on Thursday and Friday nights, and a Cowboy Trade Show

Local Favorite
DESCHUTES COUNTY FAIR & RODEO
Redmond, Ore.
Dates: Aug. 1–5
Info: $10 day pass, $19 five-day pass; (541) 548-2711, expo.deschutes.org The Deschutes County Fair and Rodeo comprises five full days of rodeo action next to the fairgrounds. The fair features nightly concerts, with past artists including The Guess Who, REO Speedwagon, and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. There’s even a K-9 Dock Diving National Championship Series to get the family dog in on the fun.

2. California

Highest-Paying Pro Rodeo
CALIFORNIA RODEO SALINAS
Salinas, Calif.
Dates: July 19–22
Info: $13 general admission, $20
reserved seating; (831) 775-3100, carodeo.com
One of the country’s oldest rodeos and the first to feature trick riding and barrel racing, Salinas packs in four full days of rodeo competition and other events. The rodeo began as a semi-annual round-up in 1872, and a group of cattlemen known as the “Salinas Coyotes” held the first official California Rodeo in 1911. The purse is more than $400,000. The rodeo’s finale leaves a lasting impression with a traditional Western bullfight to top off the fun.

Best Mid-Sized
SAN BERNARDINO SHERIFF’S RODEO
San Bernardino, Calif.
Date: Sept. 28–30
Info: Ticket prices to be announced;
(951) 312-9679, sherrifsrodeo.org
The San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department has brought the rodeo to town since 1957. It’s also one of the last rodeos of the season, and attracts cowboys looking to punch their ticket for the regional finals. The fair-like atmosphere includes rock climbing, pony rides, a petting zoo, and a mechanical bull.

Local Favorite
OAKDALE 10-STEER
Oakdale, Calif.
Dates: Aug. 30–Sept. 3
Info: Free admission; (209) 304-9084, saddleclub.oakdalecity.com
Proclaimed cowboy town, Oakdale, Calif., will host its 57th Oakdale 10-Steer Dally Team Roping this August. Put on by the Oakland Saddle Club, the event is billed as the “best roping in the world for your money,” and features thousands of dollars in prizes and cash for the amateur teams.

3. Wilderness

Highest-Paying Pro Rodeo
RENO RODEO
Reno, Nev.
Dates: June 14–23
Info: $10–$25; (775) 329-3877,
renorodeo.com
The Reno Rodeo is recognized by the PRCA as the country’s “fifth-richest rodeo.” It also claims to be the “wildest and richest rodeo in the West” with more than 140,000 fans and 400 volunteers. The volunteer-run rodeo also has a philanthropic side. Last year the Reno Rodeo Foundation awarded $50,000 in merit-based scholarships to attend the University of Nevada, Reno, and $100,000 to community organizations for families and children with special needs.

Best Mid-Sized
OGDEN PIONEER DAYS RODEO
Ogden, Utah
Dates: July 19–24
Info: $8–$15 adults, $5–$10 youth, $18–$25 reserved North/South, $30–$40 West Chutes; (801) 621-1696, ogdenpioneerdays.com Pioneer Day is a Utah state holiday and the Ogden Pioneer Days Rodeo is a favorite way to celebrate. Many local businesses close shop during the nine-day festival, which includes rodeo queens, clowns, and six rodeo performances. Ogden has placed four times among the top 20 “Best Rodeos in the PRCA,” and twice in the “Best Rodeo in the Wilderness Circuit.”

Local Favorite
WORLD SERIES OF TEAM ROPING FINALE
Las Vegas, Nev.
Dates: Dec. 10–15
Info: Free admission; (505) 898-1755, wstroping.com
More than $4.7 million in total prize money is on the line during the World Series of Team Roping Finale, the nation’s richest roping event and the fifth-richest horse event overall. Competitors know that this could easily be the biggest win of their roping career, so the heat is on as top team ropers from across the country gather for a shot at the money and prizes.

4. Montana

Highest-Paying Pro Rodeo
LIVINGSTON ROUNDUP RODEO
Livingston, Mont.
Dates: July 2–4
Info: $14–$25; (406) 222-3199, livingston-chamber.com/rodeo
The Livingston Rodeo started in 1923. Historically, it was the third leg of the former Gateway Rodeos, a brutal three-night mini-circuit where competitors matched up at rodeos in Cody, Wyo., Red Lodge, Mont., and ended in Livingston. The overall top money earner was presented with a trophy. There’s no grand prize for making the trek to all three rodeos today, but the Livingston Rodeo still tops many competitors’ Cowboy Christmas lists with a total purse of more than $100,000.

Best Mid-Sized
HOME OF CHAMPIONS RODEO
Red Lodge, Mont.
Dates: July 2–4
Info: $15-$30; (406) 446-2422,
redlodgerodeo.com
The Home of Champions Rodeo started in the 1890s as an exhibition at the local stockyards, and was sanctioned by the PRCA in 1929. Originally called the Red Lodge Rodeo, the name was changed in 1954 to honor Red Lodge native and six-time world champion Bill Linderman. It’s still a Fourth of July tradition.

Local Favorite
CHASE HAWKS MEMORIAL ROUGHSTOCK RODEO
Billings, Mont.
Date: Dec 22
Info: $7–$60; (406) 248-9295, chasehawks.com/rodeo
The Chase Hawks Memorial started in 1994 to raise money for local families in need of financial and medical assistance. Not only is the rodeo philanthropic, it’s also an invitational event where only the best cowboys compete. Much of the roughstock is also fresh from NFR, which makes for some memorable matchups.

5. Mountain States

Highest-Paying Pro Rodeo
CHEYENNE FRONTIER DAYS
Cheyenne, Wyo.
Dates: July 20–29
Info: $16–$30; (800) 227-6336,
cfdrodeo.com
The “Daddy of ’em all,” as the rodeo is known, is the world’s largest outdoor rodeo and Western celebration. Frontier Days started in 1897 as a one-day rodeo and has grown over the past century to become one of the largest rodeos in the country, with an annual attendance of nearly 200,000 people and more than $1 million in prize money. Top competitors come to take on some of the best stock on the PRCA circuit. More than just a rodeo, Cheyenne is a bucket-list worthy event that includes a weeklong celebration with parades, a carnival, air shows, concerts, contests, dances, and Native American cultural exhibits.

Best Mid-Sized
ELIZABETH STAMPEDE
Elizabeth, Colo.
Dates: June 1–3
Info: $12–$22, $35 family pack;
(303) 646-0308, elizabethstampede.com
The Elizabeth Stampede is the Mountain States Circuit’s first rodeo of the year, and attracts more than 8,000 spectators annually. The rodeo was a small, local affair from its founding in 1915 through 1956, and then returned in 1965 after a nearly decade-long hiatus with a new name and a renewed focus. It’s since grown to offer more than $55,000 in total prize money and last year was voted the PRCA’s best small rodeo.

Local Favorite
WESTCLIFFE STAMPEDE
Westcliffe, Colo.
Dates: July 21–22
Info: $9 advance, $10 at gate; (719) 371-4879, wmvsc.com/Rodeo/rodeoindex
The volunteer-run Westcliffe Stampede has been a Colorado tradition since 1947, and recently became an affiliated rodeo with the Colorado Professional Rodeo Association. It started as a community event hosted by local ranches and has grown into a two-day spectacle held during the Custer County Fair.

6. Turquoise

Highest-Paying Pro Rodeo
LA FIESTA DE LOS VAQUEROS
Tucson, Ariz.
Dates: Feb. 16–24, 2013 Info: $12–$26; (520) 741-2233, tucsonrodeo.com
How important is La Fiesta de los Vaqueros to the Tucson community? Since 1925, local students have enjoyed a two-day holiday to enjoy the rodeo and festival with family and friends. Literally translated as “the celebration of the cowboys,” the rodeo is among the nation’s oldest and is the largest outdoor winter rodeo by far. The rodeo was founded in 1925, in part to attract tourists during the winter season, and specially chartered trains brought people in from other states to the rodeo. Today La Fiesta de los Vaqueros ranks in the top 20 of the PRCA’s largest outdoor rodeos, and offers $420,000 in total prize money.

Best Mid-Sized
PRESCOTT FRONTIER DAYS
Prescott, Ariz.
Dates: June 28–July 4
Info: $12–$25; (928) 445-3103, worldsoldestrodeo.com
Prescott Frontier Days bills itself as the “World’s Oldest Rodeo” and will celebrate its 125th anniversary this year. There’s certainly a long tradition at this annual Fourth of July blowout, with a celebration that includes dances, a golf tournament, a parade, and the rodeo. The rodeo features 40 top bull riders matched against 40 of the rankest bulls. Special appearances this year include world-champion bullfighter Matt Hunt and top-ranked bullfighter Quirt Hunt.

Local Favorite
JUNIOR HIGH FINALS
Gallup, N.M.
Dates: June 24–30
Info: $8 adults, $4 children (8 years and younger), $90 season pass for all performances; 505-722-1230, nhsra.com/index.php/junior-high-division
More than 1,000 junior-high school students travel from across the country and around the world to participate in one of the best learning experiences a junior rodeo has to offer. Competitors must first qualify through their states’ finals before competing on the big stage for a share of $300,000 in prize money, scholarships, and awards at the Junior High Finals. Canada, Alaska, Hawaii, and Australia use the same National High School Rodeo Association rule book, although their qualifying rounds may differ.

7. Badlands

Highest-Paying Pro Rodeo
BLACK HILLS STOCK SHOW AND RODEO
Rapid City, S.D.
Dates: Jan. 25–Feb. 3, 2013
Info: Ticket prices to be announced; (605) 355-3861, centralstatesfair.com
Founded in 1959, the Black Hills Stock Show and Rodeo is Rapid City’s largest event. The 2012 rodeo welcomed saddle-bronc riding back into the arena, with $10,000 in added prize money. Team events include the Titan Trailer relay, wild-cow milking, double mugging, and the Crown Royal ranch-bronc ride. Bonus: Crazy Horse National Monument, Mt. Rushmore, and Badlands National Park are all nearby.

Best Mid-Sized
DAYS OF 76 RODEO
Deadwood, S.D.
Dates: July 24–28
Info: $10-$17 general admission, $22-$28 VIP box; (605) 578-1876, daysof76.com/rodeo
Celebrating its 90th year anniversary in 2012, the Days of 76 Rodeo is Deadwood’s signature event and has won the Badland’s Circuit Rodeo of the Year award 13 times. The rodeo kicks off with PRCA steer roping and finishes with an Old West-themed costume parade down the town’s main street. A “Tough Enough to Wear Pink” event raises funds for breast-cancer research.

Local Favorite
CASEY TIBBS MATCH OF CHAMPIONS
Fort Pierre S.D.
Date: June 2
Info: $15 in advance, $17 at the gate; (605) 494-1094, matchofchampions.com
This showdown is named in honor of the late two-time All-Around-World Rodeo Champion and Fort Pierre native Casey Tibbs. The Match of Champions pits the top contenders from the PRCA saddle-bronc standings, the Badlands Circuit, the current champions in the SDRA, SDHSRA, GPIRA, and any national high school or college champions from South Dakota in competition for $15,000. One grand champion takes home the prize money, along with a bronze statue of Tibbs riding out from a tornado.

8. Prairie

Highest-Paying Pro Rodeo
DODGE CITY ROUNDUP RODEO
Dodge City, Kan.
Dates: Aug 1–5
Info: $14–$29; (866) 327-6336, dodgecityroundup.org
The Dodge City Roundup attracts more than 25,000 spectators, nearly 800 contestants, and boasts a purse of more than $300,000. And yet the rodeo, which started in 1977 and today is a stop on the PRCA Silver Tour, is just one component in the 10-day extravaganza that is Dodge City Days. This celebration of Western culture also features barbeque, concerts, craft shows, classic car shows, and many more fun events.

Best Mid-Sized
WILD BILL HICKOK RODEO
Abilene, Kan.
Dates: Aug 1–4
Info: $9 advance/$10 gate, $30 weekend pass; (785) 263-4570, wildbillhickokrodeo.com
Named in honor of the town’s famous marshal, “Wild Bill” Hickok, the rodeo dates back to 1945 and has been nominated as one of the top five medium-sized rodeos in the PRCA. It attracts about 500 competitors annually, some of whom go on to qualify for the NFR.

Local Favorite
INTERNATIONAL YOUTH FINALS RODEO
Shawnee, Okla.
Dates: July 8–14
Info: $10–$12 (child and senior discounts available); (405) 275-7020, shawneeexpo.org/ifyr
Celebrating its 20th year, the International Youth Finals Rodeo is a weeklong event that, since 1993, has grown from 300 competitors to 1,000. The richest high-school rodeo in the country with $200,000 in total prize money, the IYFR has also launched many professional careers, including those of Tuf Cooper and brothers Jet and Cord McCoy.

9. Texas

Highest-Paying Pro Rodeo
SAN ANTONIO STOCK SHOW AND RODEO
San Antonio, Texas
Dates: Feb. 7–24, 2013
Info: $20; (210) 225-5851, sarodeo.com
In a crowded circuit that totalled 77 rodeos last year, the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo distinguishes itself as one of the best. In fact San Antonio has been named the PRCA’s Large Indoor Rodeo of the Year for the past seven consecutive years. The rodeo lives up to its motto of “more than an eight-second ride” with 21 rodeo performances over 18 days that attract the country’s top rodeo athletes. The rodeo had the largest regular-season purse in the PRCA this past year with $1,279,000 in prize money. There are also concerts, art shows, petting zoos, pony rides, wildlife expos, entertainers, and many more events. To date, the event has raised more than $113 million to fund scholarships for Texas youths studying agricultural topics.

Best Mid-Sized
PRCA STAMPEDE RODEO
Athens, Texas
Dates: 2013 dates to be announced
Info: $12 adults ($10 advance), $5 children 3 and younger; (903) 675-5181, athenstx.org/things-to-do/27th-annual-prca-stampede-rodeo
The annual PRCA Stampede Rodeo draws top timed-event and roughstock talent to the city of Athens, Texas. The low-key atmosphere of the two-day event lets fans watch some of the PRCA’s and WPRA’s hottest talents with a small-town rodeo feel.

Local Favorite
GEORGE STRAIT TEAM ROPING CLASSIC
San Antonio, Texas
Dates: 2013 dates to be announced
Info: Ticket prices to be announced; (210)-698-0791, gstrc.com
George Strait and his brother, Buddy, founded the George Strait Team Roping Classic in 1982 as an invitational to showcase the country’s best ropers. The Classic has since grown to include more than 500 elite teams who compete for more than $600,000 in cash and prizes.

10. Great Lakes

Highest-Paying Pro Rodeo
AMERICAN ROYAL RODEO
Kansas City, Mo.
Dates: 2012 dates to be announced
Info: Ticket prices to be announced; (816) 569-4013, americanroyal.com
The American Royal is a big rodeo with a big heart. Competitors vie for more than $300,000 in prize money during the three-day event, which is part of the PRCA Million Dollar Gold Tour and was nominated for the PRCA’s large indoor rodeo of the year award in 2011. All of the proceeds raised from the rodeo help fund scholarships and youth programs sponsored by the non-profit, volunteer-based American Royal Association. The organization hosted a cattle show until 1899, and has since expanded to produce horse shows, rodeos, and events such as the “world’s largest” barbecue contest.

Best Mid-Sized
WISCONSIN RIVER PRO RODEO
Merrill, Wis.
Dates: June 8–10
Info: $10 advance, $16 gate, $25/$35 three-day pass; (715) 297-1058, wisconsinriverprorodeo.com
Dubbed the Lincoln County Rodeo Days when it was founded in 1989, the rodeo changed its name in 2010 to better highlight its status as a standout regional Pro Rodeo. Good move. The rodeo was voted Great Lakes Circuit Rodeo of the Year in 2011, and offers perks to road-weary cowboys that include home-cooked meals, complimentary haircuts, and free horse care.

Local Favorite
SPARTAN STAMPEDE
East Lansing, Mich.
Dates: Feb. 16–18, 2013
Info: $12-$20; (517) 432-6760, msu.edu/~rodeo
The Spartan Stampede started in 1969 as an intercollegiate rodeo for student athletes only, but became an open rodeo after joining the International Professional Rodeo Association. The Stampede was named the IPRA’s 2011 indoor rodeo of the year, and annually attracts about 300 competitors with charity jackpots and a collegiate atmosphere.

11. Southeastern

Highest-Paying Pro Rodeo
DIXIE NATIONAL RODEO
Jackson, Miss.
Dates: 2013 dates to be announced
Info: $25 day pass; (903) 489-2652, smithprorodeos.com
The Dixie National Rodeo, the largest east of the Mississippi, draws huge crowds to watch top cowboys perform. The rodeo offers nearly $10,000 per event, with a total payoff of $200,000. The reigning all-around cowboy is steer-wrestler and tie-down roper Justin Thigpen.

Best Mid-Sized
RODEO OF THE OZARKS
Springdale, Ark.
Dates: July 4–7
Info: $10–$30; (479) 927-4530, rodeooftheozarks.org
With World War II looming, the town of Springdale needed a distraction, so its leaders decided to host a rodeo over the Fourth of July weekend. The Rodeo of the Ozarks has held on to its Independence Day tradition, and today more than 500 contestants compete for $150,000 in total prize money. In the past four years, Rodeo of the Ozarks was recognized by the PRCA as a top-five large outdoor rodeo.

Local Favorite
GATES COUNTY RODEO
Gates, N.C.
Dates: May 10–11 (every Mother’s Day)
Info: $12 adults, $10 children, free for ages 12 and younger; (252)-209-1473
Held over Mother’s Day weekend, the Gates County Rodeo upholds a tradition of good ol’ family fun. It began in 1997 with Aaron and Genia Brown, who wanted to show that a rodeo can be family-oriented event. A no-alcohol policy continues to this day, but there’s plenty of down and dirty rodeo action as contestants compete for $6,400 in prize money.

12. First Frontier

Highest-Paying Pro Rodeo
ATLANTIC CITY BOARDWALK RODEO
Atlantic City, N.J.
Dates: 2013 dates to be announced
Info: Tickets $23-$117; (800)-736-1420, acboardwalkrodeo.com
The Atlantic City boardwalk makes room for new guests as the usual beach dwellers and gamblers are joined by horses loping down the wooden planks on their way to the Atlantic City Boardwalk Rodeo each spring. Atlantic City bet big on rodeo last year when it hosted the first Atlantic City Boardwalk Rodeo in the historic Boardwalk Hall Arena, the largest rodeo on the East Coast, with 17,685 people attending and a $56,000 prize purse. A free cowboy hat comes with each ticket purchase.

Best Mid-Sized
THE NEW ENGLAND WILD WEST FEST
Marshfield, Mass.
Dates: June 23–24
Info: Tickets $15 in advance, $20 at the gate; (508) 944-3530, newenglandwildwestfest.com
The New England Wild West Fest is the signature fundraising event for the Spirit of the American Cowboy Foundation, a group that raises money for children’s cancer research. To date the foundation has given more than $127,000 to the nonprofit Jimmy Fund, with matching donations from private contributors.

Local Favorite
NORTH WASHINGTON RODEO
North Washington, Pa.
Dates: Aug. 14–18
Info: $6 children, $14 adults; (724) 894-2064, nwvfd.com/rodeo/default.htm
Proclaimed the Rodeo Capital of the East, the North Washington Rodeo has drawn crowds since 1959. Last year the rodeo offered a $50,000 total purse, and this year the stakes are even higher with an added $2,400 in prize money for each event. Extras include trick rider Dusti Crain McCall, and a nightly community supper in the North Washington Social Hall.

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